Festival Daily
26 July 2011
Day 6 - The Cinema of Andrzej Munk

Though his life was cut woefully short, Andrzej Munk has left a body of work that remains as fascinating today as it was when it was first released. The New Horizons retrospective offers a chance to see all of it.

The influence of Munk's early career in documentary can be seen in each of his features.  Moreover, one of his last documentaries, The Men of the Blue Cross, blurs the line between fact and fiction. It tells the story of mountain rescuers who, during the last days of the Second World War undertook a daring mission to save a group of wounded partisans from the Nazis. Adopting the voice-over style of much of the director's non-fiction work, it remains a thrilling re-enactment of a little-known story.

Munk's first feature proper, Man on the Track, unravels the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of recently retired steam train engineer. Was his it a courageous act that prevented a disaster or a botched attempt at sabotage? Employing multiple-perspective flashbacks, the film feels like a precursor to Andrzej Wajda's Man of Marble. It also draws heavily on two earlier documentaries by Munk, The Railwayman's Word and Stars Must Burn, in the way that the  director captures the world of heavy industry and it's impact upon the lives of those who live in it.

Munk's second feature, Eroica, which is now seen as a key entry in Polish film history, is presented in two movements and successfully deconstructs the myth of the war hero. In the first act, a man's inadvertently noble deed in risking his own life for the future of his country is ultimately seen as a futile gesture. While in the second, the inmates of a POW camp all aspire to emulate the heroic figure of the one man who escaped. But unbeknownst to all but a few officers, that story is yet another myth, albeit constructed out of necessity. Compared to his earlier work, Eroica displayed a significant development of Munk's style and technique.

Imagine a Forrest Gump for whom everything goes wrong. Munk's frequently hilarious third feature, Bad Luck, is exactly that. Part Walter Mitty, part Zelig and with a certain similarity to Luis Buñuel's The Criminal Life of Archibaldo De La Cruz, Bogusław Kobiela excels as Jan Piszczyk, a man so desperate to conform, his every actions make him a figure of hate or ridicule. But underneath the broad comedy is a serious statement on the myths and stereotypes of propaganda, and Munk's belief in individuality and self-expression.

Munk's final film, Passenger, was released in an unfinished form, following his death in a car accident during production. In the place of completed scenes are stills, with the actor's voices speaking over them. It is story of an encounter between a concentration camp guard and one of her prisoners, which takes place on a ship some years after the end of the war. Munk's use of flashback achieves a remarkable level of sophistication. And although the film is not the version that Munk intended audiences to see, the use of still images, blended with some of the most powerful scenes of the director's work, makes for a stark and moving portrait of memory and guilt. It is an essential work by a great director.

Ian Haydn Smith
International Film Guide
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